Meet Kamala Visweswaran: Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies at the University of TexasNovember 06, 2009
In March 2009 nine scholars conducting research on India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan spent a day trying to envision a way to demilitarize South Asia and help the region move forward peacefully. The group published a report, Reframing a Regional Approach to South Asia: Demilitarization, Development, and Sustainable Peace, and recommendations to accomplish goals that include setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan, curbing arms sales to India, and making economic and development aid the center of U.S. foreign policy in South Asia. Among those nine scholars was Kamala Visweswaran.
Kamala, an associate professor of anthropology and Asian studies at the University of Texas, received an AAUW American Fellowship in 1989. With the support of the fellowship, Kamala was able to focus on completing her dissertation. “I felt incredibly lucky to have enough money to get me through a year so that I could focus on writing the dissertation and nothing else,” she said. Kamala also highlighted the importance of the fellowship coming from AAUW, an organization “that has supported women in their pursuit of higher education.”
Some of Kamala’s work has explored the intersections between feminist theory and South Asia. In 1994 she published Fictions of Feminist Ethnography, which looks at women anthropologists whose work had been sidelined or ignored, as well as bringing to light women who weren’t anthropologists but wrote novels or memoirs about other places and cultures.
Kamala said, “You can’t understand the history and cultures of South Asia without placing them in the context of women’s struggles for rights.” She added, “You can’t understand the history of feminism without understanding the contributions of women’s movements in one of the world’s most populous regions to feminist organizing.”
Looking ahead, Kamala is currently working on a new book about “genocide consciousness,” examining how “oppressed peoples who have experienced social or political persecution or mass death come to identify their history as one marked by genocide.” She also hopes to become more involved in policy debates on South Asia, particularly on how feminist analysis can be part of foreign policy discussions.
Kamala seems to be moving in the right direction toward reaching her goals, beginning with through the work she and her colleagues did for the Institute of Public Knowledge at NYU. Drawing on her own experiences, Kamala offered the following advice, “Part of learning any field is becoming proficient in the critiques of it and figuring out a way to apply the critiques so that the field can move forward. Having a larger perspective and thinking not only about how one’s work might advance an individual career but also help move the field in ways that produce better knowledge, can be really sustaining.”